Special Report: Light Rail

Clarifying what 'LRT or Nothing' Means

No city gets to make up a transit plan on the back of a napkin and expect a funding commitment - especially not a city with a capricious track record.

By Ryan McGreal
Published June 09, 2016

Among the endless permutations of obstructionism and FUD that opponents of Hamilton's light rail transit (LRT) plan have generated, one of the more recent is that LRT supporters are wrong to claim that if we turn down the $1 billion LRT funding, we will lose the money. They have latched onto a recent quote from Premier Kathleen Wynne: "It's never been LRT or nothing."

What the Province has clarified is that if Hamilton City Council changes its mind about the LRT plan, the $1 billion earmarked for it will be released back into the Metrolinx capital funding pool for rapid transit projects in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area, and the money will be applied to the next priority projects that are ready and waiting for funding.

Of course, Hamilton would be welcome to start developing a new plan and funding request to submit to the Province, but that process takes years.

Before submitting anything, we would first have to do all the things a City has to do before it is ready to submit a plan for funding. We would have to complete background studies, conduct a feasibility studies, embark on new rounds of public consultation, prepare a class environmental assessment and complete 30 percent engineering design and detailed design work before we had anything to submit for consideration.

No city gets to make up a transit plan on the back of a napkin and expect a funding commitment - especially a city that is capricious enough to spend eight years developing a rapid transit plan only to panic and discard it at the last minute, after it was already approved.

It would be years before we were ready to submit another plan - and the best we could hope for would be a Province that is wary about committing to anything that Council said it wanted. An entirely possible and worse scenario is that the City would be approaching a new Ontario government that is no longer very interested in funding rapid transit projects.

Money is for Approved Plan

There is a reason the $1 billion is earmarked specifically for the LRT plan: that is the plan the City spent years developing, that is the plan the City submitted to the Province for approval, and that is the plan the Province reviewed and approved for funding.

Between 2008 and 2011, the City studied various rapid transit options and concluded that the biggest overall benefit and prospect for success would come from building LRT on the B-Line as phase 1, with north-south A-Line rapid transit as the next phase.

In turn, the Province did their due diligence in a benefits case analysis and agreed with our plan. The funding approval the Province announced a year ago is based on the fact that we did all the analysis and design work on this plan and are ready for a commitment.

If we change our minds and turn down the LRT money, Hamilton would have to go back to the drawing board. a process that will take years and will end up going to a Province that may no longer be interested in funding rapid transit.

So the Province is not forcing us to do anything: they're just telling us that the only plan they'll commit to funding is the plan that we already did the work of developing and they already reviewed for approval. That is entirely prudent and responsible.

Please take a few moments to tell Council to take YES for an answer, reaffirm its support for LRT and accept the full capital funding from the Province that Council has consistently voted for since 2008.

Ryan McGreal, the editor of Raise the Hammer, lives in Hamilton with his family and works as a programmer, writer and consultant. Ryan volunteers with Hamilton Light Rail, a citizen group dedicated to bringing light rail transit to Hamilton. Ryan wrote a city affairs column in Hamilton Magazine, and several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. His articles have also been published in The Walrus, HuffPost and Behind the Numbers. He maintains a personal website, has been known to share passing thoughts on Twitter and Facebook, and posts the occasional cat photo on Instagram.


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By to Terry (anonymous) | Posted June 09, 2016 at 12:59:47

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By Funding (anonymous) | Posted June 09, 2016 at 13:20:07

Not only would a new plan have to go through this process, at the end of the day, the province may not agree to 100% funding. I'm sure after what has happened recently, any future requests would only be taken seriously if we have "skin in the game" via local funding. The provincial government hasn't granted 100% funding for very many projects like they have for us with the current LRT plan.

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By LeeEdwardMcIlmoyle (registered) - website | Posted June 09, 2016 at 13:35:49

So here we are again, mixing misery and gin...

Why do so many people who have known this was in the works for almost a decade feel so comfortable throwing millions of dollars of research and taxpayer money into the waste bin because they can't bear to see their beloved Hamilton take a step into the future? They cry foul about all of the current problems that haven't been fixed yet, as if LRT can't have any useful effect on those problems, and even though these are perennial problems that have regularly been addressed at the municipal level and found that not enough public support exists to address them in a meaningful way. Even Mayor Eisenberger's poverty reduction plan is too much money for some, and too little for the rest of us aggressive urbanists who decry this stuff with eerie regularity. When is enough enough, or do we have to flog it to death yet again, and lose another modern transit system for another generation, because people with too little imagination refuse to accept that the change it truly needed, and will only become more so if we wait longer?

We say things like 'this city lacks vision' or 'this city lacks drive', but few who read these words realize that we're talking about all of us. It's a cohesive vision and drive we're lacking, and it's in large part because we get most of our news from one source: TV watchers either follow CBC or CHCH; Radio listeners get all their news from CHML; The Spec is still most paper readers' fix du jour; and all of these sources are confused on the issue, and rarely make efforts to properly and responsibly educate the residents about what LRT really means to them. Things are changing, and reeducation programs are being conducted as I type this. But the problem is, too many polarized opinions have already been formed, and intransigence is like a favourite sport in Hamilton. We'd rather continue to be wrong than change our minds on a subject we've expressed an opinion about. It's exhausting.

If we DO get LRT in place, I am absolutely convinced this whole brouhaha will be forgotten overnight, and everyone will see that it was for the best. But so long as it means making sacrifices, as all major changes must, then people who are averse to change will continue to fuss and fight until the last peg is nailed into place. I almost wish people would stop talking about it, but what really needs to happen is, more people need to cross the lines and actually talk and listen to other people about what it means. That goes for me too, but I'm pretty sure that there isn't any credible data out there that supports the arguments against LRT. The only thing I can conclude is that most folks fear change (and a little prejudiced about what sort of people we think stand to benefit from LRT the most). I'm bad with change, too, but this is something we've needed for a very, very long time. We've been hovering around the table since the late 50s, and still won't grab a plate. And we refuse to accept that the menu is steak and potatoes, when we're used to beans on toast.

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By feldercarb (registered) | Posted June 10, 2016 at 08:58:59

Supposedly, this was studied and planned. However the "approved" plan includes a stub on James that wasn't studied. And doesn't run as far east as was studied.

So "some" studies are good, and some are not. It all seems politically expedient, rather than well planned.

So the door seems open to "some" changes, but not others. If the gov. is free to make up a stub on James, why not change from King to Main or vice-versa?

What I don't get : why not run tracks in one direction on one street, and tracks in opposite direction on another street. Kitchener-Waterloo is doing this in several places on there project. I realize the electrical service costs more, but it leaves more room on the street.

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By Alfred E Newman (anonymous) | Posted June 10, 2016 at 08:59:01

LRT technology is nothing more than 120 year old street car tram out dated crap.

Hamilton discarded this in 1950. Why have spent 1 ounce of brain power discussing this over the last 10 years is beyond me. The "waste of the taxpayers' money" Liberals offer to finance this is nothing more than another gas plant or Ornge waste of money ...o typical of the McGuinty/Wynne regime.

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